Today is Valentine’s Day, the day many of us will spend with our special someone, or as it has come to be known, our valentine. Restaurants, florists and Hallmark love this day, but how did it come to be? Well, the exact history of the holiday is shrouded in mystery and scholars can only theorize how it truly came about.
To make things a little more difficult, the Catholic Church recognizes three St Valentine’s, and all three have muddled histories. One was a priest in Rome, another was a bishop in Terni, and of the third almost nothing is known other than he was martyred in Africa. This confusion may be the reason that the Catholic Church removed St. Valentine’s Day from their official feast day calendar.
The most recognized legend for this lovers’ day began in Rome around 270 CE. The Emperor Claudius inherited an empire that had grown too large and faced crisis on all sides, and so naturally he needed more and more soldiers. He thought married soldiers became too emotionally attached to their family and that marriage as a whole made men weak, so he issued an edict effectively outlawing marriage. Valentine disagreed with the decree and continued joining couples in the sacrament of matrimony secretly. It didn’t remain secret very long and he was jailed. After healing one of his jailor’s daughters of blindness, he was executed for not converting to the Roman gods. Legend holds that before his death he left a note for the daughter signed “from your Valentine.” Over two hundred years later, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14th as the feast day to honor St. Valentine, Christianizing the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Much of this story is said to be embellished. The only verifiable items in the story that I can substantiate from more than one source is that he was a priest, he was executed for his beliefs, and his feast day is (was) February 14th; the rest is lost to history.
Many medieval scholars believe that the day became associated with romantic love in the 14th century. The French and English thought birds mated on or around February 14th and Chaucer penned “The Parliament of Fowls.” This too is just conjecture though.
Whatever its history, Valentine’s Day is now a huge commercial success. Hand-made valentines were exchanged in America in the early 1700s, and began to be mass-produced in the 1840s. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately one billion valentine cards will be sold this year.
This week’s Trivia Question: What three countries have banned Valentine’s Day?
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The “People Are Asking” column appears in the Cecil Whig each Tuesday and features interesting questions from our patrons with researched answers from our staff.